Sunday, December 31, 2006
How Much Reading Can We Expect Our Students to Do?
Here is a vexing topic, at least for this instructor of cultural foundations of education. What can you expect students to read in a typical semester?
In a 500 (master’s level, but open to advanced undergraduates) course that I teach on higher education in film and fiction, I am assigning 6 novels with a total number of pages around 2200.
So, over 16 weeks we are talking about 140 pages per week. I have been advised both ways, that this is too much for some of our students, especially those who work, while some of my professorial colleagues say this is not too much. After all, we are talking about current literary fiction such as Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, not dense theoretical or philosophical texts.
Part of the problem is that students, even graduate students, generally do not do reading these days. This commonly known fact was not the case when I went to college, or at least not for me. But today, as Rebekah Nathan points out in her book My Freshman Year, students cut corners when they can, and if reading is not tested upon or part of one’s grade, very few do it.
So, I ask you dear readers, what is the appropriate amount of reading that we can expect of students at various levels? Are 150 pages of fiction per week too much even for graduate students (for comparison, for an undergraduate course in modern literature course where I went to college the professor assigned Proust, Mann, Joyce, and other large texts, one per week)?
Should we give students “reading quizzes” to assure that the reading is done? One strategy regarding readings that a friend suggests is this, and I quote him: “Talk about this problem frankly with them at the beginning of term, and say 'okay, you are graduate students in the philosophy of education. Here's an educational-philosophy issue par excellence. How do you get students to do all the readings assigned? I am sympathetic to the fact that many of you have full-time jobs *outside* Purdue. But, that said, this class is a serious responsibility that you have shouldered voluntarily for the time being. After all, I only have you for a VERY SHORT TIME. I may never get to educate you again after this term. So for these 16 short weeks, I am going to require that you really do ‘shuffle this course up to the top of the heap,' as it were, and make these readings a priority in your life while you're enrolled in it."
My friend goes on to talk of another strategy he uses: “What I do sometimes in my undergrad courses, if I suspect [know] that they are slacking, is to give a POP quiz, very early in the term, and let them crash & burn. I go so far as to collect the papers. I let them baste in their own juices for a few moments. Then I tear up the quizzes and say, ‘that was an educational moment all its own. You get a free pass THIS TIME. Next time, though, it *will* count. So be sure you do the reading.' Invariably on the next quiz they all get almost 100%."
Let me hear your reading expectations and strategies for getting students to do the readings.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Baby Steps of a White Noise Scholar
Rita: Hardly, you haven't even finished the novel yet!
Me: True, but at least I have the critical library!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Dreamgirls: "This Year's Brokeback Mountain"
Christmas tradition at the Ruds calls for us to see an opening film that evening after digesting tofurky and all the trimmings. The best for such an outing was Cold Mountain, but The Aviator and The Family Stone have worked well enough too.
Dreamgirls is all surface, not much there intellectually though there is potential of course, especially in the discussion of the music business. Fun to watch for a while, but predictable. It was stunning in the beginning but trudged along toward the end. The best role was that of Eddie Murphy as a James Brown style R&B singer with whom the Dreamettes (later to become the Dreams, get it?) back up to get their start. The film's dramatic power, if you want to call the sonic blasts that, comes from the deposing of Effi, played by Jennifer Hudson, in favor of the slimmer, blander Deena, played by Beyonce Knowles. Jamie Foxx doesn't quite pull off as Curtis, the former auto salesman who becomes the manager and manipulator of the Dreams, and who orchestrates the removal of his former lover, Effi, for the crossover appeal of Deena.
Of course this film will be showered with Oscar nominations, as the Oscars love biopics and predictable rise from the ashes storyline drivel. Jennifer Hudson will be lauded as the next coming of the voice of God, and we can predict that Oprah will have the entire cast on her show at Oscar time.
Those of us in the show I attended last night couldn't contain our titters when there were repeated instances of the stars breaking out into song, especially of the he did me wrong variety. In the car on the way home, we enjoyed breaking into song ourselves, as we warbled about how we needed to eat some more pie, clean the litter box, and so forth.
All in all, though, an appropriate Christmas kind of film, but really indicates how Hollywood just recycles the same narratives, dresses them up with new effects or a different voice. The musical biopic has really run its course for me. I haven't yet seen Walk the Line, but seeing enough trailers gives me the idea, while our DVD of Ray sits unopened.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
When I was a yute, back in the Berkshires of western MA, my brother and I would get the biggest tree we could find, and wrestle it into the house. It was always a strain. One year, I think it must have been close to 9 feet tall, and wide. But our family home was big, and the tree sat in the middle of the living room, flanked by windows that looked out on the valley of Richmond and Pittsfield MA, with the mountains of NY state in the distance. Great memory.
Years later, married and living in that magical place called western North Carolina, near Cold Mountain, we also got our trees off the mountain as I did in the Berkshires. There is where we became partial to the Caddy of Christmas trees, the Frasier Fir. Thick, dark green needles, a wonderful shape. We would go up in the hollers around Cullowhee and cut down our own.
When we moved to Indianerr, I got our Frasiers from a local meat market that imported them from Michigan. Strapped to the top of my ancient Corolla wagon, I would bring them home, across the Wabash River. No mountains here, though my hometown of West Lafayette has some steep hills and beautiful gorges.
This year, heresy reigns. After much thought over the years, we decided to go artificial. Fake. Yes, our daughter is disappointed, but glad that we are sparing a tree. I must admit, the one we got from Ace Hardware (a local gem, they are so helpful) is gorgeous. A bit smaller, around 7 feet. Lights already on it. Much wear and tear upon the married state avoided, much cursing of tangled lights by yours truly silenced. And a tree spared.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The pleasures of the season
The music, hauled out each year. This gem from Ian Anderson and his gang.
Choirs singing. Celtic music, a fave of mine all year 'round, but particularly the Celtic renditions of carols. We have lots of them. Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus."
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Dinesh D'Souza Awarded Special MacArthur Grant
D'Souza, reached at his office in Palo Alto via text message, expressed his gratitude to the foundation. He stated that the funds will enable him to continue his current work in establishing that the cultural left is responsible for the slave trade and the Great Depression. D'Souza's book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 is widely believed to have spawned research in numerous other countries, such as Japan, where victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have investigated links between President Truman's decision-making process and Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 911.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Indiana Governor Bans Song
In a surprise move today, announced at the Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis during the height of the holiday shopping, Governor Daniels banned any radio station from playing the R. Dean Taylor oldie "Indiana Wants Me," which includes the refrain:
Indiana wants me, Lord I can't go back there.
Daniels claims this message is the wrong one for young Hoosiers to hear.
In other news, Hoosier rock star John Mellencamp has been contacted by the governor's office to make another Chevy truck commercial. While the governor's office did not comment on the fact that Mellencamp's commercial is a counter to well known right wing country crooner Toby Keith's ad for Ford 150s, the publicist did confirm that Mellencamp was asked to switch the song "This is our country," and substitute lyrics about the joys of corn, soy, and the Wabash river.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
A snuff and porn film?
Just studied Mayan culture as part of a non-Western addition to my philosophy of education graduate course. Certainly what Gibson portrays narrows the focus, as the man appears obsessed by violence, and using violence to make his point, in the flaying of the Passion, and now the (literally!) heart-wrenching and throbbing action of this film.
Some links to reviews here, here, here, and here, thanks to Corax, who is writing on films and ancient Greece and Rome.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Russell Jacoby on Hannah Arendt
“Yet if her star shines so brightly, it is because the American intellectual firmament is so dim. After all, who or where are the other political philosophers? The last great political American philosopher, John Dewey, died in 1952. Since then American philosophy — with the partial exception of Richard Rorty — has vanished into technical issues; within the subfield of political philosophy, the largest of its figures, John Rawls, remains abstract and insular. His work may quicken the attenuated pulse of academic philosophers, but it does not move the rest of us.”
I think we can look to other fields for compelling political discussions, such as the work of Robert Bellah in sociology, as well as feminist theorists in ethics and political philosophy. Martha Nussbaum is conducting important work that considers current global issues. I have found Habermas's distinctions between the lifeworld and the systemsworld helpful and powerful as Jim Garrison and I think about reverence in education.
Word of the Year
Extra bonus item: The word of the year
[Stephen Colbert] I will speak to you in plain, simple English. And that brings us to tonight's word: 'truthiness.' Now I'm sure some of the 'word police,' the 'wordinistas' over at Webster's are gonna say, 'hey, that's not a word.' Well, anyone who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. 'Cause face it, folks; we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart. . . It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?... Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
An Author's Life a Century Ago...don't forget to wipe the table...
Here's a peek at how Joseph Conrad began his literary career, from Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac:
In the fall of 1889, Conrad settled in London for a few months. One morning, after he finished his breakfast, he told his maid to clear away all the dishes immediately. Normally, he would sit by the window and read from a book by Dickens or Hugo or Shakespeare.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Early Notice: 2008 International American Studies Conference at Purdue
We seek papers, panel proposals and performances that demonstrate bold new ways of thinking about the role and place of American Studies in challenging and describing current moments and acts of imperialism. These can include but are not limited to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global economic restructuring, new forms of global culture, threats to academic freedom, censorship, forms of anti-globalization activism, media, the arts and building cultures of resistance. The conference especially invites papers which articulate new forms of social organizing and resistance to imperialist designs. That is, the conference seeks to bring together scholars and activists committed to the theory and practice of social change, on one hand, and an intellectual project rooted in transformative goals. Finally, the conference seeks to refresh understanding of the terms imperialism and empire on one hand, resistance and revolution on the other. The conference seeks to create a dialectical moment and space for the production of new work and ideas, and new networks of alliance that may move us past the 'imperial moment' into a just global future.
Individual paper proposals with abstracts of up to 250 words; panel proposals no more than one page, with a complete description of the panel and individual papers; roundtables and open hearings on crucial issues and ideas up to 250 words in length; performances and/or readings on the conference theme up to 250 words are all acceptable. All proposals must include mailing address, e-mail address and telephone number for all proposed participants.
Proposals may only be sent via e-mail to Bill Mullen, Director of American Studies, Purdue at email@example.com or to Delayne Graham, Program Assistant in American Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mail submissions will be considered for review. Deadline for submission: Dec 15, 2007.